Temporal Losses, Eternal Hope

The dorms on the MU campus opened up this week and, as always, thousands of college students rushed to fill them. This annual event usually causes little more disturbance in our home than some grumbling from my husband, since he works on campus, about how the quiet streets and all the good parking places downtown are gone.

But this year it was different for me. This year, our oldest daughter was among those students moving into the dorms.

The start of this new school year represents what feels like a fairly significant loss for me. My daughter’s bedroom downstairs is empty. Well, kind of empty. There still seems to be an awful lot of clothes, dust bunnies and half-empty water bottles left behind. But she no longer resides down there. The picture to the right is of her new home on campus.

I’ve obviously seen this change in my life coming. I helped her plan for her life as a college student, and in many ways I’ve been excited for the change right along with her. But I also knew that her moving out would be a loss for me, and that I would miss her being a daily part of life here under our roof. I tried to brace myself for that change. But I’ve found that just because you can see a loss coming doesn’t really change that sense of emptiness once the loss is upon you.

These kinds of losses are the ones we all experience.

A friend of mine drove her “baby” to kindergarten this year, and I knew without being told what that loss felt like – the end of an era of being home with preschool children, and all of a sudden life turns a corner you’re never quite prepared for.

Another friend of mine is walking the same path that I am; having had a close relationship with her college-age daughter, she is now living in a home with a similarly-empty bedroom. But these kinds of “life losses,” as my husband reminds me, are inherently designed to be losses; they are transitions in life that are healthy. It’s a good thing when a child grows up and becomes independent. Our roles as parents include preparing our children for this kind of departure.

Some losses, we know deep in our souls, are not the way it’s meant to be.

Death is obviously the ultimate example of the kind of loss that never feels “right”, no matter the age of the person we lose. I got word just yesterday that my great-aunt died after a lengthy season wherein she slowly lost her mental faculties. She couldn’t care for herself, or even feed herself. She was often confused, not knowing where she was or who her own family was. And yet, her death brings a sadness to all of us who loved her. She was the third of this generation in my family to die in 2011. The last of my grandmother’s siblings, she was the “baby” of that generation, at one time, and so there’s something in her passing that marks the end of another kind of era.

So this week I have struggled, honestly, with feeling great loss in my own life, in the empty bedroom downstairs, and in the empty space in my family that my great-aunt’s life once filled. In a few short weeks, I will feel great and piercing loss in the lives of all those who will attend this next session of DivorceCare at The Crossing.

My husband and I are getting ready to meet another room full of people facing a loss they never anticipated – the death of their marriage. This is another one of those losses that is not meant to be. Marriage between a man and woman is a picture of God’s covenant promise to us, His chosen people. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6) God promises this to us and, in turn, we make this promise to our spouse on our wedding day. Not knowing the future, we nevertheless say to each other, “Yes, we might have financial difficulties. We may even suffer the loss of our health. We may struggle through rough seasons time and again, but I commit my life to you until my life is over.” But increasingly often that promise simply is not kept, and we are left with a hole where we never thought there would be one.

Our hearts ache with the loss of things that we believe should not be lost to us, and they ache even when the loss is simply the end of one good season and the beginning of another.

Too often, losses reveal areas where we have put our hope in people or circumstances that were never designed to fill us. It’s natural to be sad when your last child heads off to school, or your teenage children move out of the house and onto college life. It’s also entirely understandable that death, the demise of our marriage, a sudden health crisis, etc. throw us for a loop. But when these changes inevitably come, we should recognize them for what they are – reminders that we live in a temporal world, and nothing in this life is going to last forever. This world is not our final home; everything about our lives is temporary. It’s God’s mercy on all of us that He is continually (perhaps even “relentlessly”) pointing us to this solid, unchanging Truth (2 Corinthians 4).

When loss enters our life and removes something we value – whether we see it coming or not – we will always be deeply shaken, unless we can look to Christ for that unshakable hope, that solid ground. The best response, for those of us who profess to believe in God’s Word, is to allow those temporal losses to once again drive us to the Unchanging One who alone can fill those empty spaces in our hearts.

1 Peter 1:3-7

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

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